Learning from Trotsky

Pham Binh asks whether the understanding of the relationship between ‘programmatic clarity’ and party building is responsible for the tendency of the Trotskyist movement to split and fracture

This article is a reply to a piece by Andy Yorke first published here and cross-posted to Anticapitalists.org here. The article that stimulated the debate can be read here.

Andy Yorke’s response to my article “Trotskyism” contains so many misrepresentations of what I wrote it is hard to know where to begin a reply. This is the second time Workers Power have mischaracterized my stance on party-building questions. The odd thing is that this second response by Andy Yorke is actually a confirmation of my central arguments about Trotskyism’s endemic problems.

Two strawmen

Yorke wastes words attacking two claims I never made: that Trotskyism has a monopoly on the sect form (unlikeMaoism or anarchism) and that Trotskyist forces never led mass struggles.

How do we explain the propensity for splits in the Trotskyist movement?

The central point of my essay on Trotskyism is that the movement’s practices are fundamentally at odds with those of Lenin and the Bolshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP) and that, as a result, no Trotskyist organization in the world in eight decades has become a mass party, an actual vanguard party that commands the allegiance, respect, and attention of tens of thousands of militant workers and oppressed people. This is true even in cases where Trotskyists played an outstanding role in struggles, and Yorke provides many examples of this.

The Trotskyist movement has always been and will always be an ideological vanguard unless and until it changes what it does in practice and how it operates.

Trotsky and Trotskyism

Yorke claims that I “hardly criticise the main ideas or practice of Leon Trotsky.” A careful reading of the text Yorke is responding to shows that I do indeed criticize Trotsky but not in the usual, Trotskyist way (hyperbolic denunciation, vilification, and personalistic attacks).

In that essay I did not go into detail of what my view of Trotsky’s political mistakes were because:

1) He is dead and has no chance to respond or defend his actions.

2) He was not operating in anything close to normal circumstances, living on the run, watching his family members being murdered one by one, fearing assassination at every turn, being forced to move from country to country every few years. This was hardly the kind of environment conducive to making sound political decisions or establishing a political method that would stand the test of decades and therefore it would be unseemly to attack him for his every error when few of us would be willing to pay the price he did fighting for his beliefs.

3) Most importantly, his followers and successors are more responsible for the fate of the Trotskyist movement than Trotsky is since he was killed in 1940 while has Trotskyism has lived on for over 80 years. We should not blame someone who was assassinated seven decades ago for the actions of his followers in 1948, 1968, or 2008, just as we should not lay the blame for the terrible things done in the name of Christianity on the shoulders of a Jerusalem carpenter who was crucified nearly 2,000 years ago.

That said, no one in the Trotskyist movement has accomplished half as much as Trotsky did, so it’s no surprise that the movement that bears his name still bears the heavy imprint of his methods and actions even now.  He was a giant among midgets.

Trotskyism’s one-sided focus on political programmes, ideas, and lines began with Trotsky himself, as the quote I cited from his writings on Germany in the 1930s makes clear:

Numerically the Left Opposition in Germany is weak. But its political influence may prove decisive on the given, sharp, historical turn. As the switchman, by the timely turn of the switch, shifts a heavily laden train onto different tracks, so the small Opposition, by a strong and sure turn of the ideological switch, can compel the train of the German Communist Party, and the still heavier train  of the German proletariat, to go on in a different direction.

Trotsky wrote in a similar vein in 1931 in The Permanent Revolution:

The great historical significance of Lenin’s policy was still unclear to me at that time, his policy of irreconcilable ideological demarcation and, when necessary, split, for the purpose of welding and tempering the core of the truly revolutionary party.

Following Trotsky, James Cannon, leader of the Socialist Workers Party wrote:

Trotsky himself believed that ideas are the greatest power in the world. Their authors may be killed, but ideas, once promulgated, live their own life. If they are correct ideas, they make their way through all obstacles. This was the central, dominating concept of comrade Trotsky’s philosophy. He explained it to us many, many times. He once wrote: “It is not the party that makes the programme [the idea]; it is the programme that makes the party.” In a personal letter to me, he once wrote: “We work with the most correct and powerful ideas in the world, with inadequate numerical forces and material means. But correct ideas, in the long run, always conquer and make available for themselves the necessary material means and forces.”

The programme makes the party, and the idea creates the material means for itself.

Marx had a word for this: idealism.

And it is idealism to argue, as York does, that “[d]uring the crucial opportunities to make a breakthrough from small groups it is largely the centrist deviations and distortions of the Marxist programme by these propaganda societies that have blocked the route to growth.”

Since we have Workers Power in Britain and the League for the Fifth International “fighting for the formation of a new world party of socialist revolution” with its undistorted Marxist programme against centrists and liquidationists like Pham Binh and the Anti Capitalist Initiative, where is the growth? Does Workers Power have a mass following thanks to its programmatic clarity? Did the RSDLP grow from an organization of dozens in 1899 to tens of thousands in 1906 because its programme (however you interpret what a programme entails) was free of “centrist deviations and distortions”?

If so, how do we explain Menshevism’s mass following in 1906?

Trotsky’s basic mistake was that he expected his followers to win a mass following because all other trends in the workers’ movement would prove to be politically bankrupt in the course of the struggle, leaving the masses with no other option but the Fourth International (or the Fifth International, as Yorke would prefer). Trotsky’s practical orientation was captured well by Yorke when he argued that, “objectively vital slogans argued for skilfully, even by a relatively small nucleus of cadres, can cut through the obstruction of mass bureaucratic parties.”

Actually, no, it cannot.

The Trotskyists in Germany and Spain in the 1930s completely and utterly failed to “cut through the obstruction of mass bureaucratic parties” with their skillful arguments and vital slogans. In fact, they spent a good amount of time fighting themselves because they treated every disagreement they had with each other as a programmatic debate, giving rise to Trotskyism’s endemic splits, expulsions, and mutual excommunications in spite of the best efforts of Trotsky himself in many cases. This makes Yorke’s claim that I did “not explain how what was so valuable [about Trotskyism] before 1940 became worthless and dangerous thereafter” very far off the mark.

Being right politically is not enough to change the direction of the heavy train of the proletariat because the working class is not a train and does not respond to ideological switches, no matter how correct the switch’s programme is, even in cases where adopting said programme would help the workers’ movement avoid catastrophe.

Trotsky, Lenin, and the Bolshevik Faction

Lars Lih noted the following with regard to Trotsky’s appraisal of the RSDLP’s 1912 Prague Conference:

Trotsky didn’t have to change his mind about what happened, but only his evaluation of events: he violently attacked Lenin in 1912 for usurping the party in the name of his faction, but later on he felt this usurpation was justified.

I believe this applies with equal force to Trotsky’s perspective on all of the pre-1917 inner-RSDLP disputes involving Lenin and the Bolshevik faction. Trotsky’s assessment of what they did, how they did it, and why never changed, only whether it was positive or negative.

Trotsky viewed Lenin and the Bolsheviks as splitters, disrupters, and usurpers ever since the 1903 congress gave birth to the Menshevik and Bolshevik factions. Lenin’s efforts at rapprochement with the Mensheviks at the 1910 RSDLP plenum and in 1912 against the liquidators did not alter Trotsky’s view. While he sought to unite all trends of the RSDLP no matter how practically incompatible their orientations were and regardless of context, Lenin sought unity on a specific political basis, based on what tasks faced the RSDLP in a particular situation.

Starting in 1899, Lenin used the Iskra newspaper to unite all factions and trends in Russia’s social-democratic movement into a party worthy of the name, including the economists and followers of Rabocheye Mysl, both of whom were targets of Lenin’s polemics in Iskra‘s pages. After the unexpected schism at the 1903 congress that later hardened into the Menshevik and Bolshevik factions, Lenin sought to rally a majority of RSDLP activists to convene a third party congress to iron out and end the squabbling that wrecked the previous one and he succeeded in spring of 1905; the Mensheviks chose not to attend this gathering (meaning they were not forcibly excluded by their Bolshevik counterparts) and did not challenge its legitimacy. Starting in 1908, Lenin viewed liquidationism as a major danger to the whole of the RSDLP, one that threatened Mensheviks and Bolsheviks equally, and so he sought to unite everyone he could to fight the liquidationist trend in a vigorous four-year campaign that culminated in the exclusion of a handful of liquidators from the RSDLP in 1912 by representatives of both factions at a conference held in Prague.

With the onset of World War One and the collapse of the Socialist or Second International, Lenin sought unity with the anti-war (internationalist) elements of other parties of the Second International against its pro-war (defencist) elements. His political hostility to the anti-war Zimmerwald “center” stemmed from their half-hearted, inconsistent opposition to defencism. During the 1917 Russian revolution, Lenin pushed for unity with Mensheviks who took internationalist or anti-defencist positions; this push eventually led to a merger between some Menshevik Internationalists, the Bolshevik faction, and the non-factional interdistrict group that Trotsky led at the August RSDLP congress where Trotsky was elected to the party’s central committee for the first time. Later, the Third or Communist International under Lenin’s leadership sought to engage anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists in addition to the revolutionary elements of the Second International.

Based on this history, it is clear that Lenin and the Bolsheviks were not splitters, disrupters, nor usurpers; they did not “weld and temper the core of the truly revolutionary party” through “irreconcilable ideological demarcation and, when necessary, split” as Trotsky mistakenly claimed in 1931. In fact, they constantly sought unity with other revolutionary elements for common struggle against common enemies and even went so far as to make a programmatic compromise on the question of land reform in 1917 shortly after the Soviet government was established.

Trotsky’s erroneous and deeply flawed understanding of the methods of Lenin and the Bolshevik faction undermined his fight against Stalinism in the 1930s and crippled Trotskyism in the decades to follow. For example, in unity talks with the leadership of the SAP, a left breakaway from the German Social Democratic Party, Trotsky “demand[ed] that they take a position on all the international issues of the last ten years…” When they objected, Trotsky responded:

… it is correct for us to demand that those leaders who take upon themselves the initiative of forming an independent proletarian party indicate now their attitude towards the fundamental problems of proletarian strategy and to do that not in general and abstract form, but on the basis of the living experience of the present generation of the world proletariat.

Trotsky’s approach after 1917 could not be more different from Lenin’s approach prior to 1917.

When Lenin began fighting liquidationism within the RSDLP in 1908, he did not demand that Menshevik leaders who agreed to fight it with him adopt the Bolshevik assessment of events like the Russian revolution of 1905. Lenin even formed a political bloc against liquidationism with someone he ridiculed for renouncing armed struggle in the 1905 revolution, Greorgi Plekhanov.

Similarly, the Bolshevik faction did not insist Trotsky adopt their views on the previous decade before electing him to the central committee in 1917. Had they done so, they would have embarked on the Soviet insurrection without Russia’s most brilliant and talented revolutionary leader at its helm and suffered for it.

Nothing was more foreign to Lenin and the Bolshevik faction than this kind of counterproductive sectarianism that Trotsky mistook as their core political method and, regrettably, became the hallmark of the Trotskyist movement.

Trotsky and us

We should not let the halo of Trotsky’s martyrdom blind us to his methodological mistakes that the Trotskyist movement codified. As Lenin wrote in Left-Wing Communism:

A political party’s attitude towards its own mistakes is one of the most important and surest ways of judging how earnest the party is and how it fulfills in practice its obligations towards its class and the working people. Frankly acknowledging a mistake, ascertaining the reasons for it, analysing the conditions that have led up to it, and thrashing out the means of its rectification – that is the hallmark of a serious party; that is how it should perform its duties, and how it should educate and train its class, and then the masses.

This essay and the piece Yorke responded to were written with precisely these words in mind.

Trotsky paid a very heavy price for his courageous and lifelong opposition to Stalinism, imperialism, and capitalism. We should critically appraise that opposition, its strengths and its weaknesses, so that we – the future generation he spoke of – may better cleanse life of evil, oppression, and violence and enjoy it to the fullest as he hoped.

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34 Comments

  1. Beard
    July 11, 2012 at 2:31 pm · Reply

    Excellent article! My history of the birth of the Soviet Union and the consequences for socialists internationally is patchy at best, so you have put in more concrete perspective the things that I have long felt about Trotskyism generally. Certainly in terms of Lenin’s commitment to unity and pragmatics you are spot on.

  2. July 11, 2012 at 2:49 pm · Reply

    See also Hal Draper on “the Trotskyist sect pattern”:

    http://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/1971/alt/alt.htm#CHAPTER6

    • July 13, 2012 at 3:02 pm · Reply

      Someone who was in the American International Socialists and worked with Draper told me that his call for creating “political center” newspapers never went anywhere largely because Draper was a difficult person to work with (I asked him if Draper ever followed through and set up a newspaper along the lines he called for in his famous Microsect piece: http://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/1973/xx/microsect.htm)

  3. Dan Fisher
    July 11, 2012 at 5:28 pm · Reply

    I take issue with the phrase “He was a giant among midgets.” – although otherwise I think this is a fantastic article!

    Marx, Lenin and Trotsky all made great contributions to the revolutionary cause but they were humans, not gods or prophets, and if parts of their theories hold us back we must not hesitate to discard those sections.

    • July 13, 2012 at 3:03 pm · Reply

      I figured that would irritate some people, but I couldn’t find another way to convey the image of how we who come from the “Trotskyist tradition” all look up to Trotsky. Being a political midget isn’t a bad thing either. I count myself as one of them.

  4. billj
    July 11, 2012 at 6:14 pm · Reply

    Interesting points. But of course Trotsky’s views developed even after 1917. In 1920 at the peak of his powers a dispute arose about the publication of old polemics between Trotsky and Lenin. The apparatus were already stirring trouble, so Trotsky opposed publication as it would pointlessly reopen old wounds, but made it clear that he did not think he was wrong on every dispute with Lenin in the years before the revolution.
    After 1921 when the Troika were in the ascendent Trotsky made a futile attempt to cloak himself in Lenininism to steal the thunder of the apparatus, and it is at this point that he makes his most one sided and ridiculous, with hindsight, generalisations about the party always being right etc.

    • July 13, 2012 at 3:09 pm · Reply

      I didn’t even get into the messy period of the 1920s. I do think he made a big, big mistake in trying to portray himself as “more Bolshevik” than Stalin, Kamenev, and Zinoviev in 1917; he practically accused them of being closet Mensheviks in his 1924 “Lessons of October.” Any veteran of the pre-1917 RSDLP would have found this completely preposterous, and the bulk of the party by that time joined after the revolution, so it’s no surprise that Trotsky’s accusations never caught on.

      Lars Lih’s “Triumph of Old Bolshevism” I think is a convincing rejoinder to Trotsky’s account of the spring 1917 debates:
      http://www.cpgb.org.uk/home/videos/october-1917-the-ironic-triumph-of-old-bolshevism
      http://vimeo.com/17271793

      Lih’s argument explains why the early Comintern never endorsed Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution. Trotsky thought he was vindicated against “Old Bolshevism” in 1917 but I don’t think anyone else in the party agreed with that assessment.

      • July 13, 2012 at 3:11 pm · Reply
      • billj
        July 15, 2012 at 9:31 am · Reply

        Bukharins polemic against permanent revolution makes it pretty clear that the Old Bolsheviks knew that Trotsky was vindicated by the revolution;

        “First of all, it should be observed that the quintessence of the theory of permanent revolution is by no means the fact that we are confronted by revolution which in the last analysis will reach a stage when the workers will have captured political power. In this sense permanent revolution did come about, for the working class really came into power”.

        But being a malleable theoretician he simply redefined PR as being some other theory than the theory it was.

        • July 15, 2012 at 10:39 pm · Reply

          The Bukharin text you quote from (http://www.marxists.org/archive/bukharin/works/1924/permanent-revolution/index.htm) seems to me to be a strong and thoroughgoing defense of “Old Bolshevism” against permanent revolution. Bukharin also makes some good points about the 1905 revolution I think. This is the first time I’ve seen this text.

          • billj
            July 16, 2012 at 9:34 am ·

            It does indeed, it was written as part of his elaboration of Socialism in One Country and defence of the Troika. It basically makes it clear that the apparatus knew that Trotsky’s theory of PR had been vindicated by the revolution, but that they didn’t care, they were going to denounce him anyway. Hence the redefinition of PR as some other theory than the one it was.
            At the time Bukharin was elaborating a theory of class peace under the workers and peasants state. It came back to bite him on the arse in 1929.

          • billj
            July 16, 2012 at 1:33 pm ·

            Actually the points Bukharin makes about 1905 are ridiculous. The slogan of a workers government was posed as an immediate slogan, just as it was posed in 1917. Bukharin was a hack for sale. He cooked up whatever arguments he could to consolidate the apparatus, and when he was no longer useful, he was for the chop too.

        • July 16, 2012 at 3:56 pm · Reply

          I don’t agree with your assessment of Bukharin and nowhere in this article does he mention “socialism in one country.” According to the article’s introduction, Bukharin is responding to a debate begun by Trotsky.

          I also don’t see any reason to discount Lih’s research on the 1917 debates in the ranks of the RSDLP over this question.

          Trotsky’s version of events in 1917 is that the Bolshevik faction repudiated its entire theory of revolution in favor of one that was substantively identical to Trotsky’s thanks to Lenin’s intransigence and far-sightedness and yet, for some strange reason, this shift was not generalized and reflected in the early Comintern’s theses on colonial countries where the content of “Old Bolshevism” — working class independence, no mention of a workers’ or socialist government as the outcome of colonial revolutions, democratic demands/reforms — is found: http://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/4th-congress/eastern-question.htm

          • billj
            July 16, 2012 at 4:26 pm ·

            So what. The article was written in 1925, the year after Socialism in One Country was first announced, it was part of the general assault on “Trotskyism” who’s chief theoretician was Bukharin.
            Bukharin says in the article that if PR meant the seizure of power by the working class then it was correct. That is what it meant. Ergo the apparatus/Old Bolsheviks did know that Trotsky was vindicated.
            Certainly PR was never generalised by the Comintern. That’s not surprising, the Comintern was run by Zinoviev, the chief bureaucrat and aspirant leader of the Bolsheviks who hated Trotsky.
            As for Lars T Lih he wasn’t there now was he? I think the idea that he knows better than Trotsky based on reconstructed evidence from a century later is a joke.

        • July 16, 2012 at 8:25 pm · Reply

          If Trotsky was indeed vindicated against “Old Bolshevism” that would have been news to Lenin who was repeating the Old Bolshevik formulas of a bourgeois-democratic revolution “to the end” in 1918 (http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1918/prrk/subservience.htm).

          Examining the source material Lih based his arguments on leads me to believe that he’s basically correct on this question. I have not seen any evidence that contradicts his case.

        • July 16, 2012 at 9:10 pm · Reply

          Sorry billj, but you are wrong. Trotsky himself reconstructed the April debates in the party because he was in a British jail at the time. He wasn’t present at the spring party conference any more than Lars Lih was.

          Again, you are not dealing with any of the evidence Lih brought to light, and there’s quite a lot of it. Perhaps for you that is a convincing method; for me it is quite the opposite. I also see you haven’t explained why Lenin continued to defend “Old Bolshevism” in 1918 if he did indeed break with his old views as Trotsky claimed.

          • billj
            July 17, 2012 at 8:39 am ·

            Well he was certainly a lot closer than Lars T Lih, in as much as he was actually alive at the time. What’s more Trotsky’s argument actually happens to conincide with the facts.
            Before April 1917 the programme of the Bolsheviks was limited to a bourgeois revolution, albeit under the ambiguous slogan of democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry. Trotsky’s theory of PR in contrast understood that the social weight of the working class in the urban centres meant that in order to complete the bourgeois revolution it was necessary to overthrow capitalism. This is what happened.
            Lenin adopted Trotsky’s position. How do we know that? Simple. 1) It was actually Lenin’s position for working class to seize power. 2) The working class did actualy seize power 3) The Old Bolsheviks – including Bukharin in the article I posted – admitted that Trotsky was right – the working class did seize power as Trotsky had predicted. 4) Lenin and Trotsky did not generalise from this experience to other semi-colonial revolutions like China etc. Bad mistake. But in all subsequent revolutions where the Comintern applied Lenin’s formulation they did indeed limit the revolution to a bourgeois democratic stage, China, Spain etc.
            Just to add – you haven’t actually cited any evidence by Lars T Lih, you linked to an hour long video. Why not just summarise it in a few sentences, it’d make life a lot easier.

          • July 18, 2012 at 6:47 pm ·

            Lih wrote an entire paper on it, “Th e Ironic Triumph of Old Bolshevism: The Debates of April 1917 in Context” in Russian History #38. The evidence includes Bolshevik leaflets issue in fall of 1917 among many other things.

            If Lenin shifted his position as you (following Trotsky) claim, there’s no reason why Lenin would cite his book “Two Tactics” in his polemic with Kautsky in 1918 as proof of Bolshevism’s vindication.

          • billj
            July 19, 2012 at 7:49 am ·

            Lenin did shift his position – the Bolsheviks took power in October 1917.
            Its hardly surprising that Lenin would want to vindicate Old Bolshevism in a ploemic with Kautsky now is it?
            You’ve fallen into the swamp of academic literalism, trying to reconstruct the debate from a few fragments of literature, while ignoring the rest of the historical evidence and testimony of key participants, like Trotsky and Bukharin from the other side – who confirmed Trotsky’s account in spite of himself.
            The evidence can include all the leaflets you want, no doubt many of them were written by Shylapnikov the Petrograd organiser who supported the seizure of power, against Stalin and Zinoviev.
            The Bolshevik programme was the same as the Menshevik one. It was the common programme of the RSDLP. It was limited to a bourgeois democratic stage.
            Everyone knew that, which is why Lenin was denounced as an anarchist when he returned to Petrograd and advocated the seizure of power – Trotsky’s position.
            If the Bolsheviks did not shift their position why did they take power? Why was this the only occasion when they did so? Why in every other revolution where they applied the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry – stages theory – did it end in a bloody mess.

          • July 19, 2012 at 2:21 pm ·

            The Comintern did not apply “Old Bolshevism” in China in 1926. They forced the CCP to subordinate themselves politically and organizationally to the nationalists and even liquidated independent communist organizations.

            The Bolshevik debate in spring of 1917 was about how to move to the second stage of the revolution and finish the bourgeois-democratic revolution.

          • billj
            July 19, 2012 at 3:50 pm ·

            Thanks for sending me that article, pretty thin stuff though. If it demonstrates anything its Lih’s Kautskyite politics, he seems to be an advocate of permanent dual power – just like Stalin and Kamenev in 1917.
            His article consists of three parts;
            first part explains that the Bolshevik leadership – Kamenev and Stalin – did not want to overthrow the provisional government but to “control it”.
            second part shows the evolution of Lenin away from the stages conception – Lih makes out that there was really nothing to fuss about and that all the Old Bolsheviks agreed with one another
            third part – pretty funny this bit – explains that the socialist revolution was actually a retreat on Lenin’s behalf back to the bourgeois democratic stage.
            All in all what can you say? Feeble doesn’t come close.
            The Comintern applied the stages theory in China, the stages theory was “Old Bolshevism”.

          • billj
            July 20, 2012 at 8:39 am ·

            Just to add, the point at which the Bolsheviks were organising the socialist revolution, that is the overthrow of capitalism, is the bit where Lih claims Lenin had retreated to the democratic that is bourgeois revolution. Aside from the logical impossibility/incongruity/absurdity of this claim, let’s not forget who was the Bolshevik’s public face in this period – Trotsky!

          • billj
            July 20, 2012 at 2:53 pm ·

            One other thought, Lih bases his analysis of Bolshevik leaflets from a collection published during the 1950s. Its hardly surprising then that this collection echoes the official line that Old Bolshevism was vindicated in the revolution. They’re hardly likely to mention Trotsky now are they?

  5. MH
    July 11, 2012 at 6:47 pm · Reply

    Many leftists today urge a political bloc with progressive elements of the Democratic party, but such a block seems impossible unless these progressives renounce the Democratic Party’s policies on war, US world domination, torture (past and present), “equal sacrifice” and social welfare and education cuts. Would demanding such a renunciation leave no one to bloc with?

    • July 13, 2012 at 3:10 pm · Reply

      Most progressive Democrats would support a bloc on that basis. The far left, however, has no interest in making a bloc with them in order to actually engineer splits in the Democratic Party. They content themselves with harmless propaganda and nothing else. There are more than 5 left candidates running in the U.S. national elections as a result. It’s a disgrace.

      • Aaron Aarons
        December 2, 2012 at 3:57 pm · Reply

        Please explain how a few thousand (at most!) far leftists have caused the failure of the far larger number of “progressives” who have been working for decades inside and/or outside the Democratic Party to either move it to the left or to generate a significant left split from it.

        Also, most of us “far leftists” have in fact engaged in joint actions with “progressive” Democrats. These actions include various direct actions and demonstrations against wars, racist attacks, etc., and in defense of women’s reproductive rights, in support of workers’ strikes, etc.. Unfortunately, none of these activities have broken any substantial number of “progressive” Democrats away from support for that party of imperialism and, especially, Zionism.

        But what kind of bloc, and for what goals, are you talking about anyway?

  6. July 11, 2012 at 7:25 pm · Reply

    A post-mortem of the American SWP that bears out a lot of the analysis presented here on doctrine/ideology/program:
    http://gushorowitz.wordpress.com/2012/06/24/on-the-formation-of-the-jack-barnes-cult-in-the-swp/

  7. July 13, 2012 at 4:52 pm · Reply

    It just isn’t serious to suggest Trotsky did not understand Bolshevism or what Lenin pursued thus damaging his chances when in opposition. The key event that was to undermine the struggle of the anti-Stalinist oppositions was ironically the decisions of the 10th Party congress which banned factions. This decision which has been generalised by so many of the groups who consider themselves in some way the inheritors of the October Revolution has, and continues, to be one of the most damaging practices on the revolutionary left.

    • July 14, 2012 at 4:53 pm · Reply

      You didn’t respond to any of the points or evidence in this essay and yet claim I am the one who is not being serious?

      Plenty of Trotskyist groups have rules protecting faction rights. It hasn’t helped with any of the problems of Trotskyism.

      • July 14, 2012 at 5:27 pm · Reply

        Fair point. I would suggest a look at Lenin’s Introduction to Kamanev’s ‘Two Parties’ (1911) pamphlet would demonstrate that Lenin had no qualms about breaking with those who have ideologically broken with the RSDLP. During the editing process Lenin advised Kamanev to have more tact and use ‘formulations to the effect that the liquidators have broken away, created and proclaimed a “complete break”, and that the Party ought not to tolerate them.’ (http://tinyurl.com/7b9xhwl) Lenin’s introduction to a resolution on the state of the party in 1911 ends with: ‘The Bolsheviks must now close their ranks more firmly, strengthen their group, define more clearly and precisely its Party line (as distinct from the line of the groups which, in one way or another, conceal their “identity”), rally the scattered forces, and go into battle for an R.S.D.L. Party purged of those who spread bourgeois influence among the proletariat.’ (http://tinyurl.com/7lshjar)

        Lenin, as Trotsky was to later, considered non-revolutionary elements outside of the party. Such a position was taken on the basis of adherence to the party programme.

        It is not a question of whether Trotsky understood Bolshevism but the degree to which he generalises the pre-1914 party struggles when he goes into opposition and exile. That does not mean I think Lenin is a schemer and a splitter as some have suggested in response to your criticism of Cliff’s study.

        • July 15, 2012 at 10:46 pm · Reply

          The problem was that Trotsky considered only his followers to be the “revolutionary elements” and looked at every other trend in the workers’ movement as some form of centrism to be combatted via “irreconcilable ideological demarcation”. Lenin, on the other hand, joined hands with anti-liquidationist Mensheviks to defend the broader RSDLP and its program (http://www.marxists.org/history/international/social-democracy/rsdlp/1903/program.htm).

          • billj
            July 16, 2012 at 1:28 pm ·

            It depends when you’re talking about.

  8. David Ellis
    July 18, 2012 at 4:57 pm · Reply

    It seems the entire raison d’etre of the `anti-capitalist’ initiative is to muster together all the most conscious centrist and sectarian anti-trotskyist flotsom and jestsom that can be found and lead the charge against Marxism in the labour movement. Stalin would be proud.

    And the idea that Lenin was an idealist is just too funny. The programme does make the party both in the way that he meant it and the way that Trotsky came to understand it.

    • Dan Fisher
      July 19, 2012 at 12:42 am · Reply

      Error number 1: Implying it’s not anti-capitalism unless it’s done your way.

      Error number 2: Using unnecessary lingo that identifies you as an ideologue.

      Error number 3: Implying opposition to elements of Trotsky’s theories makes one not a Marxist.

      Error number 4: Implying opposition to elements of Trotsky’s theories makes one equivalent to a Stalinist.

      Error number 5: Dismissing a detailed argument without offering any serious response.

      Error number 6: Accusing a group dedicated to open-tent unity of being sectarian, because some of its members hold opinions you oppose.

      Error number 7: Posting an aggressive but incredibly weak attack on the ACI on their own website.

      Error number 8: While criticising the accuracy of an article, displaying the very behaviour one would observe if it were correct.

      That’s an impressive list for four sentences worth. Well, I hope this has been an educational experience for you.

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